Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

Romney's Binders: Haven't we all tried that?

on Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Binders Full of Women
Originally posted October 18, 2012

Ok, maybe not all of us…. But, I know I’ve tried to generate real enthusiasm in a few organizations around their female and minority talent. The challenge, like in the case Romney seemed to highlight, is that the issue comes to the fore at the point of decision-making. An in-touch exec, sitting around a hiring table might ask “Hey, we need to hire someone to this role yesterday, why don’t we have more women in the mix?”  The HR lead, perhaps having waited to hear just that question for 10 years, will whip out a handy “binder full of women”, and a discussion ensures, which might go something like this:
  • Didn’t know she had an engineering degree, look at that!
  • Not sure she could do this, haven’t seen her step up at the conferences we’ve had
  • Heard she just dealt with a death in the family, and has some family obligations. Great person, let’s keep an eye on that one, ok?
I exaggerate, but let me tell you, I’ve actually heard this one…Have you seen her tan? Don’t think I can put her in front of the Industry Council without us getting laughed out of the room.
I’ve felt the sense of immediacy that has resulted in my generating some of those “binders of women”…in my case, also “binders of people of color.” The one difference for me has been that I’ve been persistent and long-term oriented. The key is to get beyond that point of decision-making, which is only a window into the issue for most leaders. It’s the start of the long haul.
  • Build on it, and ensure that your leaders get to truly understand the WORK these women and people of color do and the capabilities.

    What was achieved, how did their different perspectives and approaches to problems actually bring more innovative solutions to the table – THAT’s what’s compelling about these talented folks, not the color of their skin or the accident of biology
  • Coach your leaders on executive presence…and those talented folks as well.

    There is an amazing amount of research done by such thinkers as Sylvia Ann Hewlett on the narrow margin of error for women and people of color when it comes to what is deemed adequate on executive presence.

    Challenge your leaders to get beyond fashion decisions, presentation styles and how these folks “get things done.” Find ways to engage the talented diverse individuals on some of their blind spots.

    I know that waltzing into corporate America in ’99 from South India and grad school in UK, I’d have been a dead duck were it not for the lovely Stacy Palestrant who rather sweetly suggested a shopping trip out to Ann Taylor. Bless your soul, Stacey!! And thanks Alan Culler, for reminding me early and often that it’s skedool, not schedule!!
  • Get them to spend time with these people.

    In the case of internal candidates, find ways to have the diverse talent access to present on their work. Give the binder to the leader’s chief of staff, and have them set up skip-level meetings on key projects and priorities these folks may be leading.

    In the case of external talent, proactively set up open-ended breakfasts with some of the stand-out talent out there. No job offer needs to be on the table to get a leader to meet some of these folks. This is critical, because if you want to get beyond token gestures, you need leaders to get to see and experience what working with such talent might look like – that takes prolonged exposure! For the diverse talent, these sessions can prove invaluable windows into what drives senior folks in their company or in the industry, and it can help them get a sense of where they might direct their energies, position their achievements, communicate their aspirations and build out skill or presence gaps. 
So yes, the binder isn’t terrible, the trick is in embedding it in a more strategic and long-term effort that is focused on driving innovation and inclusion in your organization (and dare I say, your party!).

(IMAGE: Mike Licht, on Flick)


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